Mentor:  Dr. Margaret Johnson, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of Alabama at Birmingham, CHEM 274, 1720 2nd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35294-1240. Telephone:  (205) 934-8137 Fax: (205) 934-2543

A Postdoctoral fellowship is available at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the laboratory of Dr. Margaret Johnson. We use solution NMR spectroscopy and other biophysical techniques to investigate the structure and function of proteins involved in the metabolism and molecular recognition of poly(ADP-ribose), a key biomolecule in the maintenance of genome integrity, chromatin structure, and the cell cycle. Areas of research include determining high-resolution structures of proteins and protein complexes, enzymatic synthesis and computational simulations.

Our laboratory is part of the Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Structural Biology at UAB. The Central Alabama High-Field NMR Facility is equipped with Bruker 850, 700, 600 and 500 MHz spectrometers with TCI cryoprobes. Biophysics facilities include MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, fluorescence spectroscopy, analytical ultracentrifugation, titration calorimetry, high-throughput screening and protein crystallization, and high-performance computing.

UAB is the top university and 8th overall institution in the Best Places to Work (Postdocs) survey published in The Scientist (2013). The campus is a major part of the downtown landscape, and is within walking distance of some of the best parks, entertainment and dining in the region. We offer high-quality training and mentoring, pay and benefits, career development, networking, and opportunities for family and personal life. The Office of Postdoctoral Education offers classes in grant writing, laboratory management, research ethics, and teaching and presentation skills. Interdisciplinary research seminars are ongoing in a variety of university-wide interest groups.

Enthusiastic, motivated researchers are encouraged to apply. Candidates should have recently received a Ph.D. in a related discipline and have a strong background in structural biology or biochemistry. To apply please send a cover letter, CV, and contact information for three references to Dr. Margaret Johnson at UAB is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.

Postdocs in UAB News

  • King crabs threaten Antarctic ecosystem due to warming ocean
    Predators’ arrival could radically alter marine life

    The king crab Paralomis birsteini, photographed on the continental slope off Marguerite Bay, Antarctica, at a depth of 1100 m.King crabs may soon become high-level predators in Antarctic marine ecosystems where they have not played a role in tens of millions of years, according to a new study on which University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers worked in conjunction with the Florida Institute of Technology and other institutions.

    “No Barrier to Emergence of Bathyal King Crabs on the Antarctic Shelf,” published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ties the reappearance of these crabs to global warming.

    This study is a continuation of previous work in the field of Antarctic marine ecology done by James McClintock, Ph.D., paper co-author and professor in UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, along with his colleagues.

    “The rising temperature of the ocean west of the Antarctic Peninsula — one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet — should make it possible for king crab populations to move to the shallow continental shelf from their current deep-sea habitat within the next several decades,” said lead author Richard Aronson, Ph.D., professor and head of Florida Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences.

    Researchers found no barriers, such as salinity levels, types of sediments on the seafloor or food resources, to prevent the predatory crustaceans from arriving if the water became warm enough. That arrival would have a huge impact.

    “Because other creatures on the continental shelf have evolved without shell-crushing predators, if the crabs moved in they could radically restructure the ecosystem,” Aronson said.

    Nathaniel B. Palmer in the ice off Marguerite Bay.The study provides initial data and does not by itself prove that crab populations will expand into shallower waters.

    “The only way to test the hypothesis that the crabs are expanding their depth-range is to track their movements through long-term monitoring,” McClintock said.

    In the 2010 to 2011 Antarctic summer, in research funded by the National Science Foundation, the team used an underwater camera sled to document a reproductive population of the crabs for the first time on the continental slope off Marguerite Bay on the western Antarctic Peninsula. That area is only a few hundred meters deeper than the continental shelf where the delicate ecosystem flourishes.

    “The mounting anticipation as the researchers watched the transmissions from the seafloor culminated in a mixture of both satisfaction and unease upon the seeing the first image of a king crab on the Antarctic slope,” said Margaret Amsler, a research assistant and co-author from UAB.

    “The overall effect of the migration of king crabs to shallower waters,” said postdoctoral scientist and study co-author Kathryn Smith of Florida Institute of Technology, “would be to make the unique Antarctic ecosystem much more like ecosystems in other areas of the globe, a process ecologists call biotic homogenization.”

    SeaSled towed vehicle being deployed from the Palmer off Marguerite Bay.Such changes, the researchers concluded, would fundamentally alter the Antarctic seafloor ecosystem and diminish the diversity of marine ecosystems globally.

    The data used in the paper were collected during an expedition to Antarctica run jointly by NSF, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and the Swedish Research Council. The expedition included scientists from Florida Tech, UAB, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

    Journalists may access the embargoed paper through EurekAlert. They should register with and request access to PNAS materials. Already registered journalists may request access to PNAS at

    A video version of this news story available by contacting Dena Headlee at or (703) 292-7739.

  • Starting strong in science
    UAB freshman Priya Shah is already a veteran in the lab. In her senior year of high school, she began a tissue-engineering project with UAB researcher Joel Berry, Ph.D., that has led to national honors — and could eventually affect patients worldwide.
    Written by Matt Windsor

    Team science: Shah is working with Joel Berry (left) and Jillian Richter (right) to create a benchtop model of atherosclerosis that could accelerate drug development. Sections of one of the team’s latest bioreactors are visible in the foreground.Priya Shah was looking for a science project. She found much more — an award-winning study, one-on-one mentoring from a veteran researcher and a leading role in a project that could eventually affect millions — all before graduating from high school.

    Shah, now a freshman at UAB and a member of the UAB Honors College’s Science and Technology Honors program, has spent the past year and a half developing a cutting-edge idea in the lab of Joel Berry, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (a joint department of the schools of Engineering and Medicine). Working with Jillian Richter, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, the team is creating a revolutionary bioreactor — a little black box designed to accelerate the drug development process for treating atherosclerosis, the most common cause of heart disease.

    It’s a rare opportunity for any eager young scientist — one made possible by UAB’s world-class research enterprise, mentoring culture and investment in specialized programs focused on student research. “The opportunities you get here to be part of a research team and to get direct mentoring experience as early as your freshman year are pretty unusual across the country,” said Diane Tucker, Ph.D., director of the SciTech Honors program and a professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology.

    Fearlessness and serendipity

    Last spring, Shah was getting ready for her senior year at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA). That meant she needed an independent, mentored research project — a graduation requirement for members of ASFA’s math and science track. She knew she wanted to do something in biomedical engineering, but “I also knew from previous experiences that it’s not easy to find someone to take you on,” Shah said. Undaunted, she started looking through the faculty pages on UAB’s Biomedical Engineering department site.

    Berry’s work with vascular stents caught her eye, and she sent him an email. After an initial meeting, Shah asked if he would be willing to mentor her. “He said ‘sure,’ which was shocking,” Shah said with a laugh. “I wasn’t expecting it to go so smoothly.” Berry, who is also associate director of the SciTech Honors program, has extensive experience working with promising young people who are fascinated by science. Impressed with Shah’s intelligence, maturity and “fearlessness” in talking with researchers, he had the perfect project in mind.

    Berry’s research “centers around devices implanted to replace diseased or damaged tissue in the cardiovascular system — vascular stents and tissue-engineered blood vessels,” he explained. He is also working on tissue-engineered models of breast cancer. “These models are developed from established cell lines, but will eventually be developed from cells extracted from individual patients,” Berry said. The cells are grown in a three-dimensional culture and can be kept alive for weeks at a time by a perfusion system, allowing for patient-specific testing to identify the most effective tumor treatments, he says. The engineered breast cancer research is funded by a grant from the Department of Defense. Berry will seek funding from the National Institutes of Health based on Shah’s work with the atherosclerosis project.

    A black box to tackle atherosclerosis

    Berry, who came to UAB from Wake Forest University five years ago, had an idea that combined his two research interests. He wanted to develop a tissue-engineered blood vessel — not a pristine vessel, but one filled with fatty, cholesterol-laden plaques. These are the hallmarks of atherosclerosis, “the No. 1 killer of adults in the Western world,” Berry said. An accurate benchtop model of atherosclerosis, derived from human cells, would give scientists searching for new treatments an ideal testing ground compared with the animal models currently used.

    Image of the perfusion bioreactor system used to culture engineered vascular tissue for the atherosclerosis project. A sample of the engineered tissue is seen at center.

    But Berry, occupied with his other research, hadn’t had time to develop the idea. Richter, also a biomedical engineering graduate of Wake Forest University and postdoctoral fellow at UAB, began investigating the idea with a unique imaging method known as bioluminescence. After Berry and Richter spent some time with Shah, they both realized she was up to the challenge. Shah quickly learned the process of growing cells, how to transfect them with luminescent viruses, which are used to monitor inflammation in the model arteries, and how to image them with a special camera. She also molded the tubes for the centerpiece of the project, the bioreactor: a shoebox-sized device containing three perpendicular, hollow tubes to give the cells a structure to grow on.

    Through repeated experiments, Shah and Richter figured out the best ways to induce and measure inflammation in their model system. “You don’t always have to have positive results, but you hope,” Shah said. When she let herself into the lab on a Saturday in December 2014 and saw that their final proof-of-concept experiment was a success, “I was very excited,” she said. “I texted a picture to Jillian and to all my friends. I met my family for lunch and said, ‘Guys, it worked!’”

    Building blocks of success

    Shah’s efforts have already attracted plenty of attention. She took home a first prize in the Central Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair (hosted at UAB), followed by a Best in Show award at the statewide Alabama Science and Engineering Fair. Shah also earned a place in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, held in Pittsburgh in May, along with students from more than 75 countries. Discussing her work in front of renowned experts “was exciting and terrifying at the same time,” Shah recalled.

    Shah was accepted into schools around the country; but UAB’s Biomedical Engineering and Honors programs, and the connections she had made on campus, clinched the deal for her hometown school. “I had two wonderful mentors, and I’ve been exposed to UAB for the past few years — it made a lot of sense for me,” she said.

    “She’s demonstrated an aptitude for science, and all of the personal attributes you need to succeed in science — independence of thought and behavior, and curiosity,” Berry said. Shah will continue to develop these attributes in the SciTech program, Tucker adds. “We work with the students throughout their time at UAB, so we can systematically introduce skills and ways of thinking and approaching problems,” Tucker said. That includes specialized training in everything from lab skills and oral presentations to submitting actual formatted NIH proposals for their research. The students also work together to develop communication and leadership skills “that will allow them to be part of teams that are solving complex problems,” Tucker said.

    “Prospective students come and talk to our current students, see what we have to offer, including substantial study abroad and service learning options, and they can visualize themselves being successful here,” Tucker added. “They sense this is a place where they will thrive.”

    Investing in ideas — and people

    As she settles in for her freshman year, Shah will continue to work on the atherosclerosis project in Berry’s lab. The team now includes two other undergraduate biomedical engineering students (and SciTech program members): Nathan Wells and Ethan Downs. “We’re continuing to gather data that we think puts us in a good position to secure grant funding,” Berry said.

    The project has also benefited from a $5,000 investment from the Invention to Innovation (i2i) initiative. This joint collaboration between the School of Engineering and the UAB Collat School of Business, led by business professor Molly Wasko, Ph.D., is designed to support just such high-potential projects. “The benchtop model of atherosclerosis is a great example of the creative work we’re trying to support here at the Collat School of Business through programs such as i2i,” Wasko said. “We believe that students can change the world when given the chance to work collaboratively with discovery scientists and business partners to accelerate science from campus to the community.” The funds have allowed the team to purchase a digital flowmeter and a pressure transducer, which will allow them to verify that their model is producing realistic blood flow and pressures.

    “This is a collaboration between multiple departments and schools at UAB — to develop an exciting project, but also to nurture an extremely bright and promising young scientist,” Berry said.

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UAB Research News

  • Loder-Jackson named associate editor of urban education research journal
    School of Education professor to serve as one of two associate editors for Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research.

    Tondra Loder-Jackson, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB School of Education’s Department of Human Studies, has been named associate editor for the 2016 issue of the Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research.

    The journal is a publication of the American Educational Research Association’s Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research Special Interest Group. The AERA is a national research society that works to advance knowledge about education, encourage scholarly inquiry related to education, and promote the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Special-interest groups like Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research provide a forum within the AERA for the involvement of individuals drawn together by a common interest in a field of study, teaching or research.

    Loder-Jackson will serve as one of two associate editors for the journal. Her program of research is focused on topics related to urban education, Birmingham’s civil rights and education history, activism of educators from a historical perspective, life course perspectives on African-American education, and home, school and community relations.

  • Contemporary artist Ryder Richards to speak Oct. 13
    Presented by the UAB Department of Art and Art History, Visiting Artist Ryder Richards will speak on his interdisciplinary practice.

    Ryder Richards, "Pinned" 2015, 82’’ x 52’’ x 52’’ Lights, battery, blaster, baseballs, balloons, acrylic shields, plastic, acrylic paint. Image courtesy of the artist.Artist Ryder Richards will lecture on his interdisciplinary practice at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    Presented by the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Art and Art History, the visiting artist’s lecture will take place in the Hess Lecture Hall of the CAS Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts, 1221 10th Ave. South. For more information, contact DAAH Outreach Coordinator Jared Ragland at

    Richards’ work can be seen as an investigation of influences related to building power and identity.

    “Often embracing cultural constructs with subversive tendencies, the work explores violence, romance, architectural influence and systems of unknowing,” he wrote in a statement about his work.

    “With several facets to my practice (writing, curating and several collaborations), many of my projects are research-based, expanding my conceptual practice and the materiality of the work.”

    “Specific pieces are performative works based around invisible labor within the art world, while others take the form of tightly rendered drawings, paintings or installations commenting on high-modernism’s relationship to science fiction,” Richards said.

    Ryder Richards“Currently, my work is investigating the aesthetics of civil unrest involving police power dynamics and civilian rebuttals.” Visit his website to read more.

    Richards grew up in Roswell, New Mexico, and currently lives and works outside of Dallas. Richards is a co-founder of the RJP Nomadic Gallery (a traveling art gallery), Culture Laboratory (an Internet-based collective exhibiting internationally) and Dallas-based group The Art Foundation. He has curated and shown his work in many exhibitions and is the recipient of several scholarships, travels abroad and awards for his achievements in art, including five artist-in-residence programs, most recently the Roswell Artist-in-Residence (2012-2013). Writing for, D Magazine and other publications prompted Richards to found Eutopia: Contemporary Art Review, focused on concise arts writing.

    Richards has exhibited in museums and galleries from Seattle to Switzerland. He has participated in the Texas Biennial 2011 and 2013 and the Dallas Biennial 2012 and 2014. Richards has works in the permanent collections of The Anderson Contemporary Museum, Roswell Museum, McNeese University, Richland College and several private collectors.

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